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A Salute to Homebrewing

This Sunday, May 7th, is National Homebrew Day, and, let’s face it, we owe a lot to homebrewers. If it weren’t for Hank and Ryan brewing at Mop Man’s place in Avalon, CMBC wouldn’t exist. We wouldn’t have made such great friends at this company, and Head Brewer Brian Hink would still be stuck at Starbucks, beardless.

But, most importantly, without the historic surge in homebrewing, craft beer itself would probably not be a thing. We’d all still be stuck drinking Swill©.

As you might imagine, a brewery attracts quite a few homebrewers, and we’re no exception. So, in honor of Homebrew Day, we decided to ask a few questions of our valiant homebrewers. Their responses are below.

How long have you been homebrewing?

Director of Brewing Operations, Jimmy Valm

I started when I was 19 by borrowing my older brother’s kit. That was 18 years ago now.

Head Brewer, Brian Hink

First batch brewed 1/5/2011.

Brewer, Mark Graves

6 years.

Cellarman, Mike McGrath

6 years.

Cellarman, Eddie Siciliano

About 4 years.

Tasting Room Manager, Zack Pashley

March 2013.

Assistant Tasting Room Manager, Dan Patela

Almost 6 years.

Assistant Tasting Room Manager, Maddie Macauley

Not long. I’ve brewed one time successfully and one time that was a disaster and have since taken a leave of absence.

Distribution Manager, Justin Vitti

11 + yrs (off and on).

Brian’s very first homebrewed beer, 1/31/11

Why did you get into homebrewing?

Director of Brewing Operations, Jimmy Valm

I got into homebrewing back in the late-90s when I was living in Seattle and craft beer was already all the rage.  I wanted to learn more about the process and what goes into making the variety of styles of beer and experiment with flavors, plus make good beer on the cheap (of course).

When I was 19, I was living with my older brother, who was 23 at the time, he got a homebrew kit to give it a go, and his first two batches tasted just awful, like mold-covered cardboard with a dash of Tylenol.  I watched him as he made his second batch and I figured out why this was the case: as he brought the wort up to a boil on the stove-top, the steam would rise up and hit the hood above the stove, which was covered in grime and grease, and Lord-knows-what. The steam would hit this, condense, and drip back down into the wort, so it was thoroughly contaminated.  He gave up after his second brew but I asked to give it a go. First I cleaned the hood, then I duct taped a towel under it so nothing would drip back into the wort.  When he saw this as I brewed my first batch he definitely had a face-palm moment.  My first batch tasted great and the rest is history!

Head Brewer, Brian Hink

I always knew I wanted to get into the brewing industry, but I needed a place to start the journey. I also love cooking and baking, so for a long time I wanted to start homebrewing to play around with different combinations of malts and hops and yeast, really let the creativity run wild on it.

Brewer, Mark Graves

Cause, beer? Haha. Love science, cooking, and craft beer, so this just seemed like the next step.

Brian racking his first spontaneously fermented beer to a carboy after cooling down overnight.

Cellarman, Mike McGrath

Something to do with friends…interest in creating new types of beer…cheaper beer.

Cellarman, Eddie Siciliano

Brewing is a lot like cooking and I love seeing how different ingredients react with each other.

Tasting Room Manager, Zack Pashley

A friend of mine, In Elizabeth City, NC, hosted a party at which he was brewing a 5-gallon batch in the back yard. Brewing that beer under his tutelage, while enjoying some of his previous creations, I done got bit by the home-brew bug.

And beer is awesome.

Assistant Tasting Room Manager, Dan Patela

Just trying craft beer, brewing what I want to drink, and thinking I could save money if I brew it myself. So far I’ve saved negative dollars.

Assistant Tasting Room Manager, Maddie Macauley

Working at the brewery.

Distribution Manager, Justin Vitti

I love beer and at the time, craft beer selection was A LOT different than today.

Mark

What does your brew system look like?

Director of Brewing Operations, Jimmy Valm

I have a 5 gal. system that consists of a hot liquor tank with an internal element and thermometer to dial in the proper temperature, a converted cooler for a Mash Tun with a spinning sparge arm for proper sparging during the lauter, a second tank with internal element I use as a wort kettle with a copper immersion chiller, and two 6 gal. glass carboys and two 5 gal. glass carboys for fermenters and conditioning tanks.

Head Brewer, Brian Hink

I still use the same 5 gallon pot I started with. I live in a condo so I never had the luxury of going out to the garage or driveway or whatever and brew with the 10 gallon converted Igloo cooler, or even better the two stage burner cart some homebrewers use. I do a partial mash/brew in a bag hybrid mash, usually throwing in a couple pounds of DME to boost up the gravity a touch. “Extract brewers” get a really bad stigma in homebrew circles, but I think that’s a load of crap and have always been a vocal supporter of extract brewing.

Brewer, Mark Graves

10 gallon Igloo cooler mash tun and 8 gallon pot for a kettle.

Cellarman, Mike McGrath

2 tiered burner with 2 – 15 gallon pots, 10 gallon igloo cooler mash tun and a single burner with a single 15 gallon pot.

Cellarman, Eddie Siciliano

German-built, fully automatic, 100BBL State of the Art brewhouse with all the bells and whistles. Yeah right! I use a 10 gallon igloo cooler as a mash tun and a 15 gallon keg as my kettle.

Tasting Room Manager, Zack Pashley

A campsite inhabited by back-woods moonshiners.

The mash tun is my late grandfather’s 25+ year old Coleman cooler, retrofitted with hardware, valves, and a metal-braided washing machine line stripped of its rubber innards to act as the false bottom. The hot liquor tank and boil kettle are one in the same. A re-purposed turkey frying pot with “nicely” welded fittings for a thermometer and valves. The heat source is a propane-fueled turkey frying stand. The wort chiller is immersion-type. A length of copper tubing, formed around a five-gallon bucket with inlet and outlet fittings. Fermenters are food-grade 5-gallon buckets with a rubber sealing lid and grommets in said lid for the air locks to live and work.

Assistant Tasting Room Manager, Dan Patela

5 gallon system with a propane burner, 10 gallon cooler mash tun, and 15 gallon boil kettle. Ferment in 6 gallon plastic carboys. And serve in a two tap kegerator.

Assistant Tasting Room Manager, Maddie Macauley

Classic one gallon system bought at the local homebrew store, Eastern Homebrew.

Distribution Manager, Justin Vitti

A special custom-built 3 gallon pot to use on the stove-top. I never really brew more than 1.5 gallons at a time.

What’s your favorite beer to brew and why?

Director of Brewing Operations, Jimmy Valm

I love brewing IPAs with new hop varieties as well as spiced Winter Warmers during the cooler months.

Head Brewer, Brian Hink

These days I’m usually brewing 4-5% hop-bombs, but I also have a ton of sours going. Currently I have 6 carboys of sours going, a sour wine going, and about 20 cases of sour beers bottled from last year in different points of aging/cellaring.

Brewer, Mark Graves

Mixed culture saisons and sours, because that’s what I love to drink.

Cellarman, Mike McGrath

IPAs or Saisons…mainly because you can tweak so many different ingredients to the recipe.

Cellarman, Eddie Siciliano

Recently, I’ve been into fruited mixed culture saisons and super hop-forward pale ales.

Tasting Room Manager, Zack Pashley

My favorite brew was a 4.7% Session IPA. It was refreshing and crushable.    …If only I hadn’t brewed it in February.

Assistant Tasting Room Manager, Dan Patela

Pale Ales. I brew for me, and I can have between 5 and 10 gallons of beer on tap, so I better like it. Also, the low ABV of pale ales keeps the beer sessionable and me out of trouble.

Assistant Tasting Room Manager, Maddie Macauley

Whichever one is successful.

Distribution Manager, Justin Vitti

Coconut IPAs and Pale Ales.

Do you bottle or keg and why?

Director of Brewing Operations, Jimmy Valm

Bottle, always bottle.  It’s easier to share with friends and family and to take some around to parties or camping trips or what have you.

Head Brewer, Brian Hink

I bottle my sours for extended aging and keg the hoppy beers to maximize the hop aroma. Hoppy beers are designed to be consumed quickly and are ideally kept cold and away any and all sources of oxygen, so bottling hoppy beers isn’t really a great idea – unless they’re dry-hopped sours of course!

Brewer, Mark Graves

Keg, but I’m trying to do more bottles in the future.

Cellarman, Mike McGrath

Started out bottling moved up to kegging.  Less to clean with the kegs…bottles are a nice gift for friends and family, also.

Cellarman, Eddie Siciliano

Both, it depends on the style of beer. I like to keg hoppy beers due to the ability to purge out oxygen and “keg hop”.

Tasting Room Manager, Zack Pashley

Predominantly keg because bottling is annoying.

Assistant Tasting Room Manager, Dan Patela

Keg FTW!  It’s convenient, takes less time, and I don’t have to store 100s of empty bottles.  Having a kegerator is nice for having half pints. If I want to share I could always fill up a growler.

Assistant Tasting Room Manager, Maddie Macauley

Bottle.

Distribution Manager, Justin Vitti

Bottle – I do not have a kegerator in my home.

Zack with some homebrewed IPA

Any horror stories? What was the worst thing you’ve ever brewed?

Director of Brewing Operations, Jimmy Valm

The only horror story I can think of for one of my beers was with one of my bottle-hopped IPAs.  I put two or three cones of whole-leaf hops into every bottle just before filling them, sort of like a homebrew version of Dogfish Head’s Randal system, except this was back in maybe 2002.  I gave a six-pack to a buddy of mine who was a fellow homebrewer, he was stoked to see how it turned out as he was thinking of trying something similar. Right after I gave him the bottles, he left for vacation for a couple of weeks, right in the middle of a heat-wave, leaving the bottles in the back of his closet. Well, as you might expect, they over-carbonated due to the heat (also due to the extra sugar content that is present in hops, although we didn’t know this at the time, and I always kept my beers in the fridge once they were done bottle-conditioning, especially IPAs), the bottles exploded in his closet, completely covering his clothes and closet walls with sticky beer and splattered hops. This probably happened about a week before he got home, too, because the smell was just rank and the hops had dried up and crusted themselves to everything they hit.  Needless to say, he didn’t give the bottle-hopped IPA system a go, and that was the last time I did one as well.

Dan’s system

Head Brewer, Brian Hink

Never really brewed anything that came out bad. Had a few that didn’t come out quite as I wanted them to, but none of the horrors of dumping batch after batch. Actually, the biggest mess I’ve ever made was the current batch I have on tap! I brewed it the day before leaving for CBC a couple weeks back and was playing around with a new technique of dry-hopping on brewday – normally you wait until fermentation is complete or nearing completion, but a lot of the great NEIPA brewers out there are experimenting with pitching yeast and dry-hops at the same time. I decided to give it a go for this batch, but when the beer was at high krausen it must’ve plugged the airlock hole with hop matter, and once some pressure was built up my fiance came home to quite a mess. I think that was on day two of CBC, but thankfully she cleaned up the mess for me got the lid back on to save the batch.

Brewer, Mark Graves

I had bad luck with the first two IPAs I brewed, this was number two. I wanted to make a nice IPA and try a new malt to me, honey malt. So I got all the ingredients and tons of Citra and (brand new at the time) Azacca hops. I was so excited!

At the same time I was constructing my kegerator made from a chest freezer. So post fermentation I wanted to crash cool the beer. Well I improperly calibrated the temperature controller and instead made a very hoppy beersicle…it had completely frozen.

So I put it on a counter with plentiful access to sunlight and threw a black trash bag over it to thaw. Well, the funny thing about that is my beagle, whenever it sees a plastic bag, thinks food. So my mischievous little doggy pulled the 5 gallons of beer off the counter, thinking it was a yummy snack, and skadoosh….beer everywhere.

Cellarman, Mike McGrath

Nope…perfect brews everytime.

Cellarman, Eddie Siciliano

The first time I brewed was pretty bad. After the boil, I put my kettle outside to cool on a snow topped table. I didn’t realize that the super hot pot and the cold snow would make a sheet of ice and cause my first batch of beer to slide off the table.

Tasting Room Manager, Zack Pashley

The first iteration of my Smoked Porter. I knew I should have only run the beer through some bourbon-soaked oak chips, but I just haaaaad to put the whole lot of them in the secondary fermenter for a week. It tasted like a forest fire.

Assistant Tasting Room Manager, Dan Patela

I’ve brewed a pumpkin beer forever ago at my parents house. I left the beer fermenting in my closet while we were on vacation. When I came home the airlock blew off due to a pressure build up and pumpkin, yeast, and beer was everywhere!  I cleaned it up and the beer was good!!

Assistant Tasting Room Manager, Maddie Macauley

I didn’t really pay attention and accidentally boiled my wort away to sludge right before my last hop addition.

Distribution Manager, Justin Vitti

Nadda.

How long is your beard? Conversely, how long do you wish your beard was?

Director of Brewing Operations, Jimmy Valm

Long enough!  I don’t know in inches.

Head Brewer, Brian Hink

I had a baby beard back then! Probably a half inch or so off the face. Then, like now, I always wish it were a little longer, but we were all dealt the hand we were with our facial hair follicle prowess and have to live within our means on that one.

Brewer, Mark Graves

Not long enough. It’s tough coming to work with Brian and Jimmy flaunting their burly beards.

Cellarman, Mike McGrath

My beard is about 2-3 inches…as far as my aspirations for beard length….none at the time…just trying to get by.

Cellarman, Eddie Siciliano

Currently, my beard is a mere 2mm long. My fiancé is not a fan of facial hair. Need I say more?

Tasting Room Manager, Zack Pashley

Short, but my eyebrows are kinda bushy. Does that count?

Assistant Tasting Room Manager, Dan Patela

It’s a decent patchy size.

Assistant Tasting Room Manager, Maddie Macauley

This question is sexist. (You’re right, Maddie. Our apologies!)

Distribution Manager, Justin Vitti

No beard – MUSTACHE!! From the center of my lip/mouth approx 4.5 inches long.


How about you guys? Do you have any horror stories? What’s your favorite thing to brew? Let us know in the comments.

And, if you’re thinking about getting into homebrewing, at least one of our homebrewers are on site all the time. Stop by after 5pm — they love talking about their favorite subject!